‘Our parents’ gravesite was recycled without our permission’
Durban - A Chatsworth family claimed their parents’ gravesite at the Mobeni Heights Cemetery was recycled without their permission, which they viewed as gross human and religious rights violations, and it impaired the dignity of their deceased loved ones.
Degino Govender said his heart sank in November when he discovered that his parents’ gravesite was “desecrated”.
Govender said the family visited the gravesite on important days and whenever they had challenges, for the sake of solace.
He said his parents shared a grave and the family had entered into a lease agreement with the municipality for the plot, which had been renewed over the years.
His mother Muniama died in September 1996 and was buried in a new grave, while his father Govindraj was laid to rest in the same grave in October 2001.
Govender said his parents’ remains were sentimental for his extended family because his father was the son of an indentured labourer from India.
“All of my father’s siblings were cremated. Therefore, we decided to bury him because we could preserve the family bloodline in that way.”
Govender said it was customary for him to clean his parents’ gravesite at every opportunity and lay fresh flowers.
It was his birthday on April 2, last year, and he decided to make another visit but was turned away by a security official at the gravesite due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown rules.
He told the security official that the municipality set June 30 as the deadline for the renewal of gravesite leases, via an advert.
However, the official responded that due to Covid-19 level 5 rules, the cemetery’s administration staff were not on duty. He attempted to visit on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in May and June respectively, and was turned away each time.
Govender said not being unable to visit the gravesite, played on his mind and he suspected something was amiss.
In November, when lockdown rules were relaxed, he was allowed to enter the cemetery.
He had a fair idea of the gravesite’s location, but on that occasion he struggled to find it.
After much searching, he located what was once his parents’ gravesite.
Instead of seeing the usual cross and foot plaque with his parents’ details inscribed on it, he saw a mound of sand and a plaque with someone else’s name.
An admin person on duty at the cemetery assured him that the grave would have not been recycled without his permission. But after examining their grave registry, it was discovered that there was no record of his parents’ burials, yet Govender had the lease agreements.
Govender said new records showed that the grave was recycled on April 10.
“How was that possible because we had until the end of June to renew the lease and the burial happened when level 5 of the lockdown was in effect,” said Govender.
That sparked a series of emailed correspondence between Govender and heads in the municipality’s parks, recreation, culture and crematoriums department.
“A supervisor was tasked with investigating my complaint and mediating the situation.”
But when he found out that no investigation was done, Govender was further angered.
That’s when one of the heads from the department apologised and said they couldn’t understand how the mix-up happened and, in December, promised the situation would be resolved within a month.
Govender said he received no further correspondence from the municipality since the promise was made.
“The rights and dignity of my parents have been infringed upon. That is why we are upset and have decided to pursue legal action.”
Govender said he wondered where his parents’ remains were.
“If it was exhumed, we should have been afforded the opportunity to perform our religious rites and dispose of it in a dignified manner.
“If not, they need to assure us with the use of Ground Penetrating Radar technology that my parents’ remains are still intact”, said Govender.
Tony Govender, the DA’S Ward 70 councillor who assisted Govender, said he received similar complaints from families.
“The allegations are that cemetery workers are working in cahoots with some undertakers and selling off occupied graves,” claimed Tony Govender.
Msawakhe Mayisela, the municipality’s spokesperson said the investigation was ongoing, and the City will meet with the concerned families tomorrow, reliant on their availability, to discuss a solution.